I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review titled Ban These 5 Words From Your Corporate Values Statement which reminded of a mistake I often see in a list of church core values: many of the items aren’t core values. It’s not that the items are evil or bad, the problem is their list of core values tells you almost nothing about who they are as a church. Take a look at your church’s list of core values and answer this question; Could your core values describe almost any evangelical church in America? If yes, then you don’t have core values, you have general principles. Core values drive your church toward your very unique mission in the word while general principles describe the basic beliefs and practices of almost all churches.
To help you in this exercise let’s look at five words churches should ban from their list of core values. (WARNING: When you finish this list you may have to start over articulating your church core values.)
5 Words You Should Ban From Your Church Core Values
Quoting the HBR article: “You can’t claim to be authentic or that you want to be — you must simply be authentic. And your organization will be authentic if its leaders actually act and communicate in authentic ways.” When I see a church with Authentic as one of their core values my first thought is, “Hmm, I wonder what they are trying to hide?” Authenticity isn’t something to strive for, it’s something to be.
Transparent is the cousin of Authentic. It shows up in lists of core values more often than James Harden at the free throw line (obscure NBA reference). The challenge isn’t that transparency isn’t a positive attribute, the challenge is that it doesn’t change who you’re striving to be as a church. No church has opacity as a core value. Like authenticity, transparency is something that will flow naturally out of who you identify, develop and deploy as leaders.
Of course a church should hope to be relevant to their culture, but relevance isn’t the VALUE you are pursuing. Church core values push to the front of the line when there is a conflict of interest, which means that a church based on eternal biblical truths will at times seem completely irrelevant to the current culture. What is the value BEHIND the desire to be as relevant as ethically possible in an ever-shifting culture? That is your core value.
A church core value should be true of your church in every situation. That is why it is a “core” value; everything you do flows out of that value. I’m all about fun and humor. I love leaders that don’t take themselves too seriously and churches that know how to create fun experiences.
There are, however, many times when fun is inappropriate. There is nothing fun about a child’s funeral, a failing marriage or a school shooting. In those moments no one is looking for a pastor who can tell a joke or a church that knows how to throw a party. It’s okay, even good, to be fun; it’s just not the core of who you want to be as a church.
Often this means, “Our theology is WAY better than the theology of the other churches in town. We are the heavyweights in the GFC (Gospel Fighting Championship).” Your particular theological bent may be a core value but focusing on the Gospel isn’t your unique or exclusive purview.
Your core values drive the mission of your church. Are you focused on people who’ve never heard the Gospel? Are you obsessed with justice for widows and orphans? Is your central purpose to see people become better disciples? Do you spend a huge amount of time and money investing in reaching unreached people groups in other countries? Are you passionate about building strong families? All of these are positive, but not every church is focused on the same areas. Every church has unique call and a unique bent; that’s what your core values should reflect. The authors of the HBR article say it like this:
“There isn’t one right set of values for every organization. Your core values should describe the collective attitudes and beliefs that you desire all employees to hold, translate those into specific actions and decisions that they should make, and then in turn show how those behaviors produce customer experiences that define and differentiate your brand. Your core values need to be unique.”
Take some time with other leaders in your church and ask these two questions:
- Are our church core values unique to our church, or do they fit with any similar church in the country?
- Do our church core values accurately reflect our unique call, passion and style of ministry?
If you are redefining your vision, mission and values we’d love to help. We are certified in the Paterson Center’s StratOp process, which is an incredible system for discovering and executing your church’s God-given plan. You can contact us here for more information.
This article on church core values originally appeared here, and is used by permission.